Wilkes-Barre, PA — Sen. John McCain today continued his stepped-up criticism of his Democratic rival’s position on the war in Iraq, saying Sen. Barack Obama would “rather lose a war in order to win a campaign.”
Speaking at a “Straight Talk Town Hall” event here, McCain reiterated the accusation he made Tuesday in New Hampshire as he sought votes in a region of Pennsylvania that went heavily for Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary.
Reminding his audience that critics said his early support for more troops in Iraq would doom his presidential hopes, McCain recalled, “I said I would rather lose a campaign than lose a war.”
The “surge” has been credited with reducing violence in Iraq to its lowest levels since the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime.
“Senator Obama said that the strategy of the surge would not succeed. He said it was doomed to fail. He said there would be an increase in sectarian violence. He still, to this day, has said that the surge is not succeeding,” McCain told a crowd of about 900 people at the morning event at the F.M. Kirby Center in downtown Wilkes-Barre.
“It’s a remarkable failure to understand the facts on the ground. So, apparently, Senator Obama would rather lose the war in order to win a campaign,” he said.
Similar remarks by McCain during a Tuesday appearance in Rochester, N.H., were denounced by many critics, including Time magazine columnist Joe Klein, who called it a “scurrilous statement” that “smacks of desperation.”
The repeated attack on Obama — who is currently in the midst of a weeklong foreign trip — appears part of a newly aggressive approach for the McCain campaign, which recently reshuffled staff and brought in former Bush political operative Steve Schmidt as a senior advisor.
The visit to Wilkes-Barre represents a key opportunity for McCain to flip a Democratic blue state to Republican red. In the April 22 Democratic primary, surrounding Luzerne County voted 3-to-1 for Clinton over Obama, and clearly the McCain campaign hopes to win over Clinton Democrats in a potential swing state that Bush narrowly lost to John Kerry in 2004. A June Rassmussen poll showed Obama with a four-point lead over McCain in Pennsylvania.
The presumptive Republican nominee arrived here two days after his campaign debuted a new TV ad in Pennsylvania and 10 other states, blaming Obama for high gas prices.
“Gas prices, $4, $5, no end in sight, because some in Washington are still saying no to drilling in America. . . . Who can you thank for rising prices at the pump?” the McCain ad asks, showing a photo of Obama with audio of crowds chanting the Democrat’s name and closing with the slogan: “Don’t hope for more energy, vote for it.”
McCain spoke today in front of an “Energy Solutions” backdrop, promoting his Lexington Project for energy independence, and said that as a result of President Bush’s recent announcement that the federal government would lift its off-shore drilling ban “the price of oil dropped $10 a barrel.”
“We need to get our resources that are off-shore and get them into our market so the world will know that we’re on the way to eliminating our dependence on foreign oil,” McCain said.
McCain mocked Obama’s opposition to offshore drilling, noting the Democrat’s much-ridiculed personalized presidential seal with its “Vero Possumus” slogan — “Yes, We Can” in Latin. “I think he should change that to ‘No, We Won’t,’ ” McCain said, eliciting laughter and applause from the crowd.
The Republican talked about his proposal for a federal gas-tax holiday, which would temporarily eliminate the 18-cents-per-gallon tax on gasoline.
“I wanted to give them a little break,” McCain said, saying the opponents of the idea worried, “You know what might happen? We might not be able to fund some of those pork-barrel projects that Congress loves to spend money on.”
He also emphasized the need for increasing alternative energy sources, including solar, wind and nuclear power.
“The Navy has been sailing ships around the world for 60 years with nuclear power plants on them and we’ve never had an accident,” he said. Noting that 80 percent of electricity in France is generated by nuclear power, McCain joked, “We always want to imitate the French,” and called for the construction of 45 new nuclear plants by 2030.
Advocating “clean coal technology,” McCain asked his audience to “think of how many jobs that will create in Pennsylvania.”
McCain’s emphasis on energy policy and the economy — “I think Americans are hurting very badly,” he told his Wilkes-Barre audience — seemed intended to heighten the contrast with this week’s foreign trip by Obama, who since Saturday has traveled to Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan and Israel on a media-saturated excursion that will also take him to Germany, France and England.
The Republican’s campaign has spoofed the media’s apparent infatuation with Obama, releasing a video compilation of clips in which TV reporters gush over the candidate. With all three network news anchors accompanying Obama on his foreign tour, the McCain campaign yesterday issued press passes to reporters covering the Republican, dubbing them the “JV Squad: Left Behind to Report in America.”
Despite the domestic emphasis of McCain’s daily theme, his appearance here included heavy doses of foreign policy as he offered “straight talk” on a recent Taliban “resurgence” in Afghanistan: “We’re going to have to send more troops.”
Taking questions from the audience, McCain was asked by one self-described Democrat and Hillary Clinton supporter why it was taking so long for the Iraqi army to take over security operations there. “Because we mishandled it for nearly four years,” McCain answered. “We had the wrong strategy.”
Another audience member asked about the possibility of a military draft. “I don’t think we need to re-instate the draft,” McCain said. “I served at a time when we had a draft, and I thought it was unfair.”
Asked by another questioner about Israel, McCain invoked Iran as a major threat, saying Israel “is facing the greatest threat since its independence.” Alluding to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s anti-Semitic statements, McCain vowed that the United States “will never allow a second Holocaust.”
The McCain campaign yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of Obama’s statement that he would meet with Ahmadinejad and other “rogue” foreign leaders “without preconditions.” McCain’s campaign hit back with a statement accusing Obama of trying to backtrack during an appearance in Israel. In a campaign conference call, McCain supporter Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) said Obama had “set himself up for a policy direction that undercuts our allies.”